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Google Case Study:
Oak Hills Local School District

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Context & Background

The Oak Hills Local School District is located on the western side of Cincinnati Ohio and it was well overdue for a strategic plan. It had been more than 18 years since the OHLSD completed a comprehensive strategic planning process - one that would guide the district over the next three to five years.  In 2019 leaders started their work on strategic planning. They gathered community input across the 7,800 student K-12 district which led to the development of their five guiding pillars: Teaching & Learning, Social Emotional and Mental Health, Equity and Diversity for All, Quality Environments and Quality Learning, and Destination District.

Then the pandemic hit in March of 2020. The immediacy of the crisis meant that they needed to shift their attention to distance learning, support for students and families; and so, they put the entire strategic planning process on pause. 

This pause allowed OHLSD to re-examine the systems that drive their work - the meetings, decision making processes, and the project planning. Christian Long, the Digital Innovation Administrator for the district reflected, “We spend so much time in education talking about content, curriculum, what’s best for students and what’s best for our district, that we often don’t spend enough time talking about how we do the work.” Meetings were often a chance for leaders to make decisions and share successes; however the team didn’t have a common language for meeting structures, or a clear purpose for each type of meeting, nor the habits for kicking off each project successfully.

A program provided by Google, through the Chromebook Credit for Transformation Services, OHLSD was able to engage Education Elements - a national K-12 consultancy that helps districts address a variety of complex questions. Education Elements has helped thousands schools shift to more student-centered learning, and helped hundreds of school districts to - among other things - develop their return-to-school and strategic plans and address systems through an equity-focused lens.

The Work

oak hills school district - believe posterEducation Elements was “the first organization to focus on improving the processes that drive the work,” said Assistant Superintendent Tim Cybulski. “We had never worked with a group that’s talked about the fundamentals. [They are] great at helping organizations improve the processes that lead to better results.”  Over the course of multiple sessions, OHLSD and Education Elements focused on improving district-wide project management practices to measure OHLSD’s performance against goals and enable the district to continue key actions, course correct as needed, and celebrate wins and progress. Together they developed a common understanding of a project canvas and how it supports the project management of district priorities, as well as a common language around decision making and meetings.

Christian Long reflects, “We are becoming so much more clear in what we are trying to accomplish. We are not settling for ambiguity. There’s a renewed sense of energy because there is a renewed sense of focus. Becoming clearer on what we are doing - the work is both fun and exciting.”

In addition, this renewed focus, clarity of purpose of their meetings, and project plans are likely to reduce the costs of meetings, and increase the effectiveness of the team’s strategies. This will ensure that success for students and the community is felt more deeply and more quickly than ever before.

Strategic Relationships

Google has been there throughout this transformation. OHLSD was one of the first in the state of Ohio to “go Google.” The tools and apps are built into their culture for both educators and students - it’s ubiquitous. The tools encourage collaboration whether meetings are synchronous or asynchronous, and enable the staff to better understand and serve the community through surveys and email. All of this was extremely helpful for the community when in-person learning shifted to remote learning last spring. 

During the work with Education Elements, OHLSD has been able to use Google Sheets to monitor progress, and create project canvas templates. Moreover, research that Google did as part of the re:Work research provides the foundation for this work with Education Elements. In an effort to understand how the best teams work, researchers at Google found that team success was not significantly impacted by the skills of the team members or the skill of the manager, rather two factors significantly impacted team success: psychological safety, and ostentatious listening. Together with Education Elements, OHLSD has put in place the habits and structures to ensure both.


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